Fears arise in Egypt that Christians will face backlash from Trump’s anti-Muslim policies

Published January 30th, 2017 - 01:00 GMT
An Egyptian Coptic Christian raises a cross while others shout slogans in a demonstration last year. (AFP/File)
An Egyptian Coptic Christian raises a cross while others shout slogans in a demonstration last year. (AFP/File)

US President Donald Trump's willingness to prioritize refugee claims from members of persecuted religious minorities could actually rebound against Middle Eastern Christians, according to a prominent rights activist from Egypt's Christian minority.

"[A]ll the time extremists here are accusing Christians of being affiliated with the United States," said Mina Thabet, programme manager for minorities at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

"This will make conservatives believe it more. It will make the lives of Christians more difficult in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries," he added.

Providing asylum for members of minority communities should be a "last resort," Thabet argued.

"It's not the answer to take people from their countries, from their homes... We have to think about how to end discrimination and you can't fight discrimination with discrimination."

Trump's executive order barring the entry of citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries also suspended the processing of refugee claims.

The US president said that when they resume, priority should be given to claims of religious persecution from minority groups.

Before signing the order, Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network that he intended to help Syrian Christians, alleging that they found it harder than Muslims to be granted asylum in the US.

Christians made up less than 1 per cent of the 12,587 Syrian refugees admitted to the US in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.

However, in overall refugee admissions, numbers were similar: 38,901 Muslims and 37,521 Christians.

About 5 per cent of Syria's pre-war population were Christian, according to analyst Fabrice Balanche of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

That proportion dropped to 3 per cent in 2015 as Christians and Sunni Muslims were over-represented among those fleeing the country, Balanche wrote.

Christians and other religious minorities have been persecuted by the Islamic State extremist organization and have also feared the rule of rebel groups who are increasingly dominated by Sunni Islamist hardliners and al-Qaeda-linked jihadists.

Iraq's Christian minority has also been massively reduced by emigration since the 2003 US-led invasion that deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Egypt's Copts, the region's largest Christian population, have long complained of discrimination and, especially in poor rural areas of southern Egypt, occasional outbreaks of sectarian violence.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, who ousted his Islamist predecessor in 2013, has repeatedly reached out to Christians and a new law is supposed to ease restrictions on building churches.

Rights groups say, however, that acts of sectarian violence are still often dealt with by informal local arrangements that can sanction abuses or leave attackers unpunished.


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